Cinema Review: Shut Up and Play the Hits

DIR: Will Lovelace, Dylan Southern • PRO: Thomas Benski, James Murphy, Lucas Ochoa • DOP: Reed Morano • ED: Mark Burnett • CAST: James Murphy, Chuck Klosterman, Gunnar Bjerk

If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever.

So opens the swansong for LCD Soundsystem, whose fans will enjoy how well cinema’s surround sound serves clips from the farewell concert. Film buffs will enjoy how the filmmakers explore its lead singer’s apparent reticence.

I was there. (‘Losing My Edge’)

The film captures and shares the ‘weird experience’ that Murphy  saw in his final incarnation as LCD Soundsystem. The concert footage is excellent. Highlights include fans singing along to ‘All My Friends’, Reggie Watts joining in the excerpt from ‘45:33’, and the disco ball lighting the theatre in ‘Us v. Them’. Dancers’ delight in enjoying the music may make cinema pundits jealous in their seats. You’ll want to be there.

All the little people wanna dance, it’s true. (‘Us v. Them’)

LCD Soundsystem was largely a one-man act. James Murphy played the majority of instruments for the albums and performed live with a regular cohort of musicians, among them guitarist Al Doyle of Hot Chip. The eponymous first album, follow-up Sound of Silver and finally This Is Happening earned universal critical acclaim, the third reaching number 10 in the Billboard 200. They were popular at music festivals, appearing several times at Electric Picnic. At the height of success, Murphy decided to quit. Why?

I wish that we could talk about it, but there, that’s the problem. (‘Someone Great’)

Chuck Klosterman, of The New York Times Magazine, interviews Murphy, who describes his reluctance to explain his songs and how he finds talking about himself boring. The visuals reflect Murphy’s evasiveness, shooting him from behind, Aronofsky-style, as he describes himself aging, finding his hair greying between tours. The visible intimacy in seeing Murphy shaving, or the glimpse of his bottom in black boxers as he changes trousers, contrasts with Murphy’s difficulties in opening up, his hesitancy in answering Klosterman’s questions.

You forget what you mean when you read what you said. (‘All My Friends’)

Klosterman suggests to Murphy that he’s a ‘fan of pretension’, and faux realism undermines Murphy’s apparent sincerity. Klosterman suggests Murphy’s inability to stop being self-conscience. The opening credits sequence combines overhead and handheld shots, in which we see stagehands preparing New York’s Madison Square Garden. While the handheld shots give a freer, authentic feel to the film, they cannot overcome the staginess and contrivance of many scenes. Murphy expresses an interest in making coffee at the beginning, and coffee recurs through the film, Murphy tending to the coffee machine when he returns to his office, now empty of people. The soundtrack is silent when Murphy stands and cries amongst his LCD instruments. References to Thomas Pynchon, famous for being reclusive despite phenomenal acclaim, may make the film seem like a vanity project. A poster on the wall, ‘Note to self, be kind, be kind, be kind,’ alludes to an uneasiness that Murphy’s cool and confident pretence might be a cover for harsh self-criticism, but it’s no more than an allusion.

But what are the options

When someone great is gone? (‘Someone Great)

Murphy describes other people as seeing him as exceptional, more talented or something special, but he expresses a desire to move away from that as much as possible. The film clearly demonstrates his achievements in music and the joy his fans find in his work. The film takes its title from Win Butler, lead singer of Arcade Fire, turned backup vocalist for Murphy’s farewell, who shouts out the line while Murphy recalls touring in Australia. Maybe it doesn’t matter what people think about Murphy himself. He wanted to leave a mark, ‘a stain’, as he says. This is a film to see with friends, to enjoy the music and not to wonder too much about its maker or its making.

John Moran

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
108mins

Shut Up and Play the Hits is released on 4th September 2012

Shut Up and Play the Hits – Official Website

 

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